Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death: Falls Run Part 1
by, 08-16-2012 at 05:15 PM (2344 Views)
Saturday, August 4, 2012
(After playing the Ravenloft: Masque of Red Death scenario “Falls Run” by James Wyatt (Dungeon Adventures #67) Friday with Stephen Turner and Erik Huffine from 7:00 p.m. to 1 a.m.)
On Tuesday, December 23, 1890, two strangers boarded the crowded train in Baltimore, Maryland. There were three engines on the train, the first of which had a huge snow plow affixed to it. These were followed by the coal car, a baggage car, a dining car, and three Pullman sleeper cars. The two men found themselves sitting together in the center Pullman sleeper car.
The Pullman cars were ornately decorated, inside and out, and sumptuously furnished. The main chamber of the car consisted of twelve compartments of two facing seats, a row of six compartments on either side of the car. The seats could be folded together to form a lower bunk, while and upper berth folded down from the ceiling of the car. Curtains could be pulled around each bunk for privacy. A gas chandelier hung in the aisle between each pair of compartments.
At the forward end of the main compartment, a curtain led into a narrow hallway linked to the car entrance. The hall bent around the smoking room and ended before a door leading to the vestibule between cars. At the rear end of the sleeping compartment, a second curtain opened into another hallway, which led to a rear vestibule identical to the forward one. A door in that hallway led to a drawing room.
Robert James Blair was 32 years old. A tall, slim man of average appearance, he wore rough clothing and had a thick beard and mustache. His hair was fairly long. He wore plain breeches and had well-worn boots. His clothing was a little threadbare and he wore a heavy coat and a fedora. A large knife was strapped to his belt. His Winchester rifle was also stowed in the baggage car along with his backpack, his only luggage. He was returning to Cincinnati from Baltimore with his brother’s body. His brother had died of consumption and Blair had come east from his home in Nevada to settle the man’s affairs. He’d been named as the executor of his brother’s small estate and found himself a little overwhelmed by the entire process.
Dr. Johann Jacob Heintz was 30 years old and had only recently started his own practice. He was a plain-looking man of slight build with blonde hair and blue eyes. A pair of gold-rimmed glasses was perched on his nose. He dressed in a very nice suit and wore a fine overcoat with a fur collar. He also wore a silk top hat and carried a physician’s bag and a violin case. Originally from Pennsylvania, his family had moved to Ohio when he was young. He now practiced medicine in Baltimore. He was en route to his sister’s family for the holidays and had safely seen the crate with the four Christmas presents stowed in the baggage car.
Finally settled in their seats after pressing through crowds of holiday travelers for what seemed like hours, the two men were able to allow themselves a deep breath and began to relax. The seats were upholstered in fine cloth, and the chandelier in the ceiling over the aisle gave a comforting, warm light. The fold-down bunk over their head was exquisitely decorated, and the well-dressed porters were moving down the aisle with graceful efficiency.
The train left the station. Dr. Heintz took out his pocket watch as the car began to move and saw they were right on schedule. He had been told the trip would take roughly 15 hours with stops, expected bad weather, and other delays. Snow was falling gently outside.
Blair looked around at the finery. He didn’t think much of it. Most of the people were well-dressed, while only a few were dressed like him. All of the seats were full. Dr. Heintz took off his coat and laid it in the seat, putting his silk top hat on top of it. Blair took his long coat off and laid it on his lap. He fiddled in the pockets and then pulled out a piece of beef jerky. He wiped it off and removed a little lint, then took a big bite. Dr. Heintz looked at the meat with distaste. He’d had a meal before he’d boarded the train.
Neatly-dressed porters moved down the aisle, making sure everyone had anything they needed. Two berths ahead of the two men and across the aisle was a family. A snot-nosed little boy of probably about four had his nose against the glass. He left a smear.
“What’s that?” he said. “What’s that?”
His mother very patiently told the little lad what he was pointing at outside of the window. A little girl with ringlets in her brown hair sat next to the boy, trying to read a book. She looked to be about 10 years old. Every time the boy said something, she rolled her eyes as if terribly annoyed with him. A man with a large handlebar mustache sat with them, reading the Wall Street Journal and ignoring the children.
“No time for dinner, sir?” Dr. Heintz finally asked the man across from him.
“Pardon?” Blair said.
“No time for dinner, I take it?”
“I was under the impression that they were going to be serving us a meal on this train.”
“That’s what I meant, sir. I take it you didn’t eat earlier.”
“Right. No time.”
They sat in silence for a moment.
“Beef jerky?” Blair finally said, holding out the meat.
“No, thank you, sir,” Dr. Heintz replied. “Headed home for the holidays?”
“Going to see my mother.”
“I’m going to see my sister and her husband and their children. I haven’t seen them in a couple of years, actually. So, it’s something I’m looking forward to.”
“I’m taking my dead brother’s body home.”
“Oh. I’m very sorry. My condolences to you.”
Blair looked the man over and noted the black bag and the strangely-shaped case.
“You some kind of doctor?” he asked.
“Yes sir, more or less,” Dr. Heintz replied. “I’ve recently finished school and I’m working at one of the hospitals in Maryland.”
“Sort of in-between jobs at the moment.”
“Ah, I see. So, a laborer? Were you a soldier, or ...?”
“I worked with the army. Hunted Indians out west.”
“Ah. A respectable job.”
“Kept me fed.”
There was another uncomfortable silence. It stretched out for several hours and the men contented themselves with their own thoughts.
At 9:50 p.m., the train stopped. The conductor called down the car “Keyser, West Virginia” several times. Neither of the men had been to West Virginia before. More passengers were taken on at the stop. The train only stopped for 15 minutes and was on its way shortly after 10 p.m.
“I’m not sure where they’re going to keep all these people,” Dr. Heintz said.
“If they would cut back on all of the fancy finery, they’d have more room for seats,” Blair said.
“Well, they’re just trying to make it comfortable for us, sir.”
“I’d be comfortable with more seats.”
At 10:15 p.m., the porters started making their way down the car, folding the berths down for sleeping. They helped those who needed it and when one of the young men reached the berth where the two men were, he told them they’d be folding down the seats.
“How you do it?” Blair said.
“If you could stand up,” the porter said.
“I can figure it out, I appreciate it,” Blair said. He’d watched the porters do it down the aisle. “When I get sleepy, I’ll–”
“No sir, we need to put them all down now,” the porter said. “We’re going to lower the lights in here. If you’d like to stay up, you can go to the dining car or the smoking room.”
“They serving food in the dining car?” Blair asked.
“I believe that there is some food being served,” the porter said.
“They got drinks?”
“Well, perhaps I’ll join you,” Dr. Heintz said, standing as the man headed towards the front of the train. “I should have asked your name earlier. My name is Jacob.”
He held out his hand.
“Robert,” Blair said, shaking his hand.
“That’s quite a grip, sir,” Dr. Heintz said. “Robert. It’s good to meet you.”
“I have to be careful with my hands, you know.”
“Of course. They’re your livelihood. I understand. I think I will head to the dining car.”
They made their way through the other cars to the dining car and were able to get hot food and drinks there. There were only a few others in the place. Blair had a double whisky and Dr. Heintz got a snifter of brandy.
“To your brother, sir,” Dr. Heintz said, lifting his glass.
“Thank you kindly,” Blair replied.
“If you don’t mind me asking, what did your brother die of?” Dr. Heintz asked.
“Consumption,” Blair replied.
“Oh. A terrible disease which we have yet to eliminate. There are some sanitariums for it out west.”
“I really wouldn’t know much about that.”
“I would assume with you being somewhat of a traveling man out in the west, maybe you would have heard of them.”
“I tend to stick off the beaten path, as it were.”
“I see. Have you lived at all with the red man?”
“I’ve coexisted with the red man.”
“I know you said you hunted them, hunted them for the army somewhat. So I figured you understood them a bit.”
“A little. I suppose many of the things that I’ve learned came from them.”
“Are they truly as savage as men say?”
“Well, I suppose it depends on what men. Some of them can be quite savage. But only for reason. They’re not savages for the sake of being savages.”
“Well, surely they’re not as cultured as we are. We Christian folk.”
“Well, no sir. I would agree with you there. However, they don’t often do the horrible things to each other that we have done.”
“But surely they scalp, as I’ve heard.”
“They do. But that’s ... that’s just their way.”
More uncomfortable silence followed while Blair ate.
“Robert, tell me more of your adventures,” Dr. Heintz finally said to break the awful silence.
“How long have you got?” Blair asked.
“Most of the evening, I suppose, if you’d care to join me in the smoking room.”
The two men made their way back to their Pullman car and found the small smoking room empty. Dr. Heintz took out a pipe, loaded it and lit it, filling the air with the pleasant scent of expensive tobacco.
“The injuns smoke a lot of pipes,” Blair said.
“Do they?” Dr. Heintz said.
“Ah yes! ‘Smokum the peace pipe,’ yes?”
“Absolutely. They do it to see visions. Travel the spirit path, they call it.”
“Hogwash. Spirit path!”
“I wouldn’t know.”
They were still chatting when a piercing scream filled with horror echoed through the car.
“What the devil!?!” Dr. Heintz said.
The two men leapt to their feet burst out of the room. In the main part of the car, they saw a young woman in her bedclothes sprawled on the aisle floor, shrieking as she stared horrified at the berth beside her. The curtains of that bunk had been thrown back, and a man lie thrashing within, flailing wildly as if to ward off some demonic madman.
He fell out of the bunk, yet no assailant followed him – just a simple pocket knife, surrounded by an eerie blue glow. The knife rose into the air before their eyes and plunged deep into the man’s back! The woman continued to scream horribly as blood seeped onto her bedclothes. A soft, gurgling noise escaped the man’s mouth as he began to slump lifeless.
But then the man jerked up and staggered to his feet. Stiffly, he reached under his bunk and produced a large box with a handle. Like some hideous automaton, he smashed the box against the floor, causing small pieces of delicate machinery to fly out from the ruined item. After mindlessly crashing the box down onto the floor a few more times, the man gave a slight cough and collapsed face-first on the cabin floor. Only this time, he did not stir again.
“My God!” Dr. Heintz said.
Blair ran to the woman while Dr. Heintz ran to the man. He found him dead, the blade of the knife in the man’s heart. He should not have been able to stand up and smash the box. Blair found the girl crying and hysterical. He turned her away from the horrible scene.
People up and down the car were peering out of their berths. Many of them had watched the scene in horror. Then a man with a handlebar mustache appeared near the front of the car. He wore a nice black suit and approached the body. He leaned over it.
“What happened here?” he demanded.
“This fella here just ... fell out of his bunk,” Blair said weakly. “He was ... chased by a knife.”
The man glared at him.
“What?” he said. “What do you mean ‘chased by a knife?’”
“Ask him!” Blair said, pointing at Dr. Heintz. “He saw it.”
“Sir!” the man said, turning to the doctor. “What did you see, sir?”
“Uh ...” Heintz said. “Honestly sir, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would not have believed it.”
“What was it?” the man asked. “What did you see?”
“The knife did fly from the berth after him. And struck him in the back.”
“Someone threw knife at him!”
“No sir. It seemed to float in mid-air and went right towards him as he ran.”
“Very suspicious-sounding. Very suspicious-sounding. Very suspicious-sounding.”
The man turned to the young woman.
“What about you, young lady?” he said. “What did you see? Did you see something?”
“She’s the one that screamed, sir,” Blair said.
“It was horrible,” the young woman said. “It was awful. I was sitting in the seat opposite Mr. Hammond and talking to him earlier this evening. He was talking to me. He’s a train telegrapher. He was telling me about his profession. I’m traveling with my sister Elaine and our cousin. They’re sitting ...”
She pointed to the berth across the aisle where a woman who resembled the girl was climbing down from the top bed. A young man watched from the lower.
“I had the top bunk and I fell out of it while I was trying to ... he was thrashing around underneath and I was trying to see what it was,” the girl went on. “And then ... and then ... and then the knife came out of nowhere and it was awful, it was horrible. He looked like he was struggling with somebody. But there was nobody there! There was just nobody there!”
“All right,” Blair said. “All right, miss. This is your sister? Go to your sister.”
The other woman took the young, hysterical girl in her arms. Dr. Heintz pulled the blanket from the dead man’s berth and covered the body.
“I’m the train spotter,” the man who had been interrogating them said. “I’ll get to the bottom of this! I’ll investigate this. I’ll investigate this right now. Yes. Yes, I will.”
“Sir, perhaps someone should fetch one of the porters,” Dr. Heintz said.
“Yes, I’ll go fetch the porter,” the man said. “No. I have to ask questions of these people and see what they saw.” He pointed to the doctor. “You sir, what did you see? Wait. Where were you when all this happened? When it began?”
“Sir, we need to fetch a porter and get this man out of here,” Dr. Heintz said again.
“But the rest of the people here are not.”
“I will ask my questions first, sir. I will ask my questions first!”
“We were in the smoking room,” Blair said.
“You were in the smoking room, yes?” the spotter replied. “What were you doing in there?”
“Very well. Hmmm. I noticed you have a knife on your belt sir!”
“I still have the knife on my belt; it’s not in the man’s back.”
The train spotter turned to Dr. Heintz.
“Do you have a knife, sir?” he said to him.
“Well, yes sir, I do actually,” Dr. Heintz replied. “But it’s not one me, it’s in my bag.”
“A knife in your bag. Could you see if it’s still there? Perhaps that’s the murder weapon. Very suspicious. Very suspicious.”
Dr. Heintz pulled the blanket back and looked at the knife in the man’s back. It didn’t look like the one he owned, but a cheap pocket knife.
“I don’t have time for this,” he said. “I need to fetch a porter.”
“Is it your knife, sir?” the train spotter said.
“No, it is not, sir.”
“Hmm. Hmm. Well, can you show me your knife?”
Dr. Heintz sighed and retrieved the pocket knife from his bag. The train spotter looked it over and then handed it back to him.
“Very good,” he said. “Very good. I must ask these people questions!”
He began asking the same questions of the rest of the passengers: where they were when the murder happened, what they saw, and the like. He got consistent answers, though some people did not see the knife hit the man while others claimed they didn’t know what they saw. The train spotter was very insistent but some would not comment on what they saw or claimed they had not really seen what happened.
Meanwhile, Dr. Heintz found a porter and told him to get the conductor and some more porters so they could move the body to the baggage car. The conductor and porters soon arrived. The train spotter told them not to dislodge the knife as it was an important clue to the killer’s identity. Dr. Heintz and Mr. Blair escorted the porters and the body forward to the baggage car. When they arrived, Blair found his backpack and took his pistol and gun belt from it. He strapped the gun belt on and holstered his pistol.
They returned to their Pullman car and found the train spotter talking to the conductor. He advised that they should stop the train in Grafton, the next stop, so they could take on a new telegrapher. The conductor looked at his watch and compared it to his schedule, then told the other man that they should be there at 12:10 a.m., in a little more than half an hour. The train spotter seemed pleased with that.
“I will continue my questions,” the man said.
“Very well, Mr. Leecy,” the conductor said.
“You! You there! Child!” Mr. Leecy said, turning away from the man. “What did you see? Come here!”
The young woman was sitting in the top berth with her sister. The young man in the bottom berth watched them with some concern.
“That’s a bit bold, don’t you think?” Dr. Heintz said looking at Blair’s sidearm.
“I’m not going to get stabbed by some blue-glowing knife,” Blair replied.
“I’m sure there will be an explanation for this.”
“I’m sure there will be. In the meantime, I’m not getting stabbed by some blue-flowing knife.”
“Somebody was murdered right here in front of us.”
“Yes, something peculiar did happen.”
“That’s not going to happen to me, that’s all I’m saying.”
Dr. Heintz went to talk to the girl. She seemed to have calmed down though there was still blood on her nightdress.
“Excuse me, my dear,” he said.
“Yes,” she said.
“May I ask your name?”
The girl’s sister looked at the man suspiciously.
“Elise,” he said. “Were you just bunking with Mr. Hammond, I believe you said?”
“No!” Elise replied. “Goodness sakes, no! I was on the top bunk, he had the bottom.”
“Forgive me, were you sharing a berth with Mr. Hammond?”
“Yes, we sat and we were talking. He was telling me he was the telegrapher for the line and that he had his telegraph box with him. He seemed a very pleasant fellow and we had a nice conversation.”
Dr. Heintz turned to Mr. Blair.
“Do you think you could get the telegraph box before that fool gets hold of it?” he whispered.
“If you don’t think I’ll get into any trouble by that idiot,” Blair replied.
Blair gathered the broken parts of the box and its contents. Dr. Heintz turned back to the girl.
“Did you know Mr. Hammond very well?” he asked. “Did you meet him on the train?”
“No, we just met on the train,” she replied. “He seemed a very nice gentleman. He had the seat across from me so we struck up a conversation. He told me that he uses a special box in order to hook into the telegraph wire. He said it runs along the route of the train.”
“Indeed it does.”
“Well, my name, sir, is Geoffrey Leecy and I’m the train spotter on this train and I can ask any questions I want!” Leecy’s voice came across the car.
“Elise, where are you from?” Dr. Heintz asked the girl.
“Philadelphia,” she said. “I’m going home for the holidays with my cousin Alvin and this is my sister Elaine.”
Alvin nodded to the doctor.
“Indeed, my family is from Philadelphia as well,” Dr. Heintz said.
They made some small talk about the city for some time. Dr. Heintz could hear that dolt Leecy still questioning the other passengers as they talked. Then, in mid-sentence, the train spotter let out a little yelp, almost a squeal. Sparks and flashes of blue seemed to leap from his jacket and hovered in front of him.
Here we go! thought Blair.
Then they saw what had happened: some unseen force had pulled Leecy’s own gun form under his jacket and was pointing it at Leecy’s head! The man stood stock still, white as a sheet, visibly trembling as a drop of sweat worked its way down his nose. Blair drew his own revolver.
Dr. Heintz dashed for the floating pistol and tried to grab it, but tripped as he leapt and crashed into Leecy, sending both of them to the floor. The pistol lowered slightly, aiming down at the two of them; Dr. Heintz flinched. Blair lunged at the blue-glowing, floating pistol and grabbed it around the midsection, shoving his thumb under the hammer. He felt like he’d put his hand into a bucket of ice-cold water. With a click, the hammer came down on the finger and then the pistol became heavy in his hand. He cursed in pain and Dr. Heintz looked up.
Blair holstered his own pistol and tucked the leather loop down to hold it in place. Everyone else in the car was standing and hysterical. Ladies were crying and wailing. Men were shouting that the train must be stopped. Children were crying. The little girl that Blair had noticed earlier rolled her eyes and seemed more annoyed at the situation, though she looked around nervously.
Blair raised the train spotter’s pistol and fired it up into the roof. Silence filled the car for a moment.
“This isn’t helping,” Blair said quietly.
“That didn’t help either!” one man yelled at him.
The noise level started to rise again.
“We all just need to calm down!” the porter shouted. “We all just need to calm down!”
It didn’t help.
Dr. Heintz pulled himself off Leecy, who was gibbering quietly to himself.
“The gun!” the man said. “It tried to kill me! Oh my God! It, it tried to get me!”
“Leecy, are you all right?” Dr. Heintz said.
“I’m not all right! I’m not all right!”
Dr. Heintz slapped him smartly across the face.
“Pull yourself together, man!” he said.
Leecy grabbed the lapels of the doctor’s coat.
“There was nobody there!” he said over and over. “There was nobody there!”
“Leecy, I know,” Dr. Heintz said. “Let go of my coat.”
Blair, meanwhile, emptied the five bullets and the empty shell casing from Leecy’s pistol. Leecy stumbled to his feet and Dr. Heintz saw that he was shaking and sweating. He helped the man to a berth and the man sat down, putting his head in his hands, still muttering to himself. Blair handed the pistol and bullets to Dr. Heintz and the man tucked them in his jacket pocket.
Dr. Heintz sent the near-hysterical porter to find the conductor.
“Go stand by one of the doors,” Dr. Heintz said to Blair. Blair nodded and then unloaded the bullet that would be under the hammer of the pistol of his own pistol when it was next cocked.
“You might want to think about that if you load that piece,” he said.
Blair headed to the back of the car, telling people to get back into their seats. They ignored him or a few men blustered at him. Dr. Heintz moved towards the front of the car and ran into a conductor.
“What’s going on?” the man asked. “What is happening now? Mr. Leecy, what are you doing? What’s going on?”
“I don’t know!” Leecy wailed. “I don’t know any more!”
“We’ve had another incident,” Dr. Heintz said quietly to the man.
“I heard the gunshots,” the conductor said.
“I think it might be a wise decision to get some of these folks into other cars, if we can.”
“There’s no room to get them into other cars. This train is full to capacity. At least until we get to Grafton. Some people are leaving there.”
“By God, man! Something unusual is happening in this car. I want to make sure all of these people are safe!”
“Everyone needs to calm down!” the conductor called out to the people in the car. “Everything will be fine.
Leecy continued gibbering.
“Will you at least take Mr. Leecy to the dining car and get him a snifter of brandy?” Dr. Heintz said.
The conductor nodded and got Leecy to his feet, escorting him towards the front of the car. As he passed Dr. Heintz, the man patted the train spotter on his shoulder.
“It’ll be all right, Leecy,” he said. “Stiffen up, man.”
Leecy paid the man no mind as the conductor escorted him out of the car. Dr. Heintz moved through the car and tried to calm down the various people in the car successfully. He let people know that he was a doctor and he would figure out what was going on. One gentleman noted that his ankle had been bothering him.
“If you’re ever in Maryland,” Dr. Heintz said, handing the man his card.
The passengers had started to calm down again, finally, when screams and cries of alarm erupted from the car behind theirs. In an instant, the reason became apparent. The curtain s at the rear of the compartment were ripped open with a shower of blue sparks, and they could see the drawing-room door behind the curtain banging open and closed apparently of its own accord. The lower berths bucked with some unseen force and collapsed, while the upper berths bounced up and down. The curtains around the bunks opened and shut frantically, all the while suffused with that same blue glow. The force seemed to be moving forward through the car, throwing loose objects into the air, smashing personal belongings against the walls and ceiling, all amid the terrified cries of the other passengers. Seconds later, the curtain at the front of the car was torn open as well and the doors began to slam in the forward hallway. Soon the screaming began in the car ahead, the sound mingled with the terrified sobbing of the passengers.
After only a minute, the sobs and moans of the passengers desisted and the screams from rest of the train stopped. They could almost feel the air move as the passengers finally dared to breathe again. Women were crying. Some of the men were even crying. The little girl that Blair had seen earlier, seemingly indifferent to everything that had happened up to that point had tears rolling down her face.
“Mother, when is this going to stop?” she said. “I don’t want to ever ride on a train again.”
Dr. Heintz went to the berth and checked his medical bag. He found that some of the glass bottles within had broken. One of his scalpels was missing, seemingly flung from the bag. He saw it stuck into the wood of the wall right next to the little boy with the runny nose. The boy frowned mightily and stared at the scalpel which had only missed his head by inches. Dr. Heintz fetched it.
“Thank you for holding that for me, lad,” he said with feigned cheerfulness.
He looked at the bag.
“This was a gift,” he muttered.
Then, an inhuman shriek of metal pierced their ears. The train lurched forward, sending passengers sprawling in the aisles, and the steady rhythm of the wheels increased its tempo. Blair and Dr. Heintz managed to stay standing. The steam whistle bellowed forth a sustained note of terror as the train reached speeds which did not seem possible. Passengers cried out in panic, their gasps swallowed by the squeal of metal, a horrific wrenching noise, and a low rumbling that seemed to go on and on.
The train lurched suddenly, heaving passengers from their seat and the aisle. Both Dr. Heintz and Blair were thrown forward, unable to steel themselves against the imminent catastrophe.
* * *
It was strangely quiet. It took a moment for Dr. Heintz to realize that he was still alive. Others around him were beginning to move amidst the wreckage of the train and he realized he was not even badly hurt. He was lucky.
Everything seemed shrouded in eerie silence. The movements of others seemed soundless – even the flames engulfing the engine seemed to burn in silence, casting an ominous glow on the thick clouds overhead. Then, one sound reached his ears, reassuring him that he still had hearing: the howling of wolves at a great distance, almost like a heavenly choir.
Outside the wreckage of the train, the snow-cloaked mountains rose up, oblivious to their plight. The snow was falling hard, but towards the north he could barely make out a few lights glinting off snow on the mountainside, offering a hinted promise of warmth and comfort.
The Pullman car lay on its side, broken open like an egg. The heavy drifts of snow had cushioned the blow of the crash. The groans of the injured rose up around him.
“Get your bag, doc,” Blair called from somewhere in the darkness.
Dr. Heintz was amazed to find that he was still clutching his medical bag. He began to examine the other passengers as quickly as he could.
“Doc?” Blair called again. “Doc!”
“I’m over here!” Dr. Heintz called.
Blair lit a match but the wind immediately blew it out. He lit another, sheltering it with his hand. It lasted a few moments longer.
Miraculously, it didn’t appear that many people were hurt. The passengers started to gather from the various other cars and in their own, only one person had died. Blair tried to organize people, telling them to get clothing and boots or shoes on as best they could. Passengers helped each other and another man also tried to help organize. People had little more than bruises and bumps, though one man had a broken arm.
Of the 120 passengers on the entire train, only seven were found to have been killed in the crash. The engineers, firemen, the conductor, Leecy, and two of the porters had all been killed, leaving only eight surviving porters and a few other servants as the living railroad personnel. Leecy has been cut all over as if by broken crockery as if something happened in the place before the crash.
As they gathered everyone together, Blair looked towards the lights on the distant hillside and realized with a start that one of them seemed to be moving. A large shape plowed through the snow, and he saw that the moving light was part of the shadow. His blood began to pound in his ears as fear ran up his spine. He heard a jingling noise and the gentle crack of a whip, and he began to make out the shape of two horses pulling a sleigh. Walking behind the sleigh and its driver were a number of other shapes.
“Here comes help, everybody,” Blair called. “We’ll be all right. Where are we? In West Virginia, still?”
“Is anybody out there?” a man’s voice called from the sleigh.
“Yeah!” Blair called.
“We’re here!” Dr. Heintz said.
“There they are, men!” the voice said. “C’mon!”
A half dozen or so men bundled up against the cold with thick coats and hats appeared in the darkness. Scarves covered their faces. They started to distribute blankets to the passengers.
“Just like last year,” one of the rescue party said with a thick accent.
“West Virginia’d be my bet,” Blair said to Dr. Heintz. “Maybe Kentucky.”
“We can lead you back to Falls Run,” another local man said. “That’s the nearest place. It’s not far. It’s about a mile.”
“All right,” Blair said.
“Where did you men come from?” Dr. Heintz asked.
“From Falls Run,” another man said.
“We’ve got a lot of injured men and women. We’ve got children too.”
“We’ll help everybody the best we can,” another local man said.
The army of survivors trudged through the snow along the railroad tracks for perhaps a mile. Their feet were so cold and their eyelashes so caked with ice that many of them lost track of distance and time. Soon, the white monotony of the snow was broken by hulking shadows which they dimly recognized as houses. The men led them towards a pair of open doors from which light and warmth spilled out. A sign above the doors read “Mount of Olives Baptist Church.” A crew of women had already prepared some huge pots of steaming soup.
Folks moved about, bringing extra blankets and cots and setting them up around the fellowship hall. Despite the disaster, a festive atmosphere pervaded the room. The warmth of the church was a welcome respite from an otherwise harrowing experience. It was not long before someone again mentioned how odd it was that a train crashed in the same spot exactly one year earlier.
The soup was warm and the vegetables were still crunchy, as if it hadn’t cooked for very long. There was even a little meat in it as well. Passengers and townsfolk all pitched in to help those who were injured. Dr. Heintz moved through the room, trying to help any of the injured as best he could. He asked the women of the church for hot water, cotton cloth, and straight supports for splinting.
“Bobby, he needs some boards for splints,” one of the women said to another man. “You and T.J. go out and find something he can use.”
“Yes ma’am, we’ll do that,” the young man said.
He and another man left, returning with a few boards that would suffice. In the meantime, the women boiled water and fetched sheets.
Blair talked to some people in Pullman cars other than his own and asked them what had happened before the crash. The description that he got was almost identical to what had happened in their own car: the blue sparks, things flying, and such. One man hoped that the baggage car had not been terribly damaged as he had his violin in it. Another man noted that porters asked about the earlier gunfire and screams said there was nothing to worry about, but noted that the train would stop in Grafton.
Blair found a corner and someone shoved a bowl of soup into his hands.
Dr. Heintz asked about a local doctor but one of the townsfolk said they hadn’t sent for him.
“You may have to send for him yet,” Dr. Heintz said. “I’ve lost most of the medicines in my bag.”
He looked around.
“Where are we?” he asked one of the women.
“This is Falls Run, West Virginia,” she said. “We’re a mining community. We’re small but we’re proud.”
“About how far away are you from Keyser?”
“Keyser? Well, Keyser’s pretty far. We’re close to Grafton. You know where Grafton is?”
“It’s on the line. It’s one of the stops. It’s a big town. That’s where I do my shopping. Except for the farmer’s market when they have the farmer’s market. They sometimes have the farmer’s market.”
“Thank you ma’am.”
The people of Falls Run were not fancy. Their clothing was threadbare and simple. The soup was tasty, however, and the locals were very friendly.
Blair looked around for Dr. Heintz and saw someone put a bowl of soup into the harassed physician’s hands. When the man looked around, Blair waved from his corner and the doctor came over and sat next to him.
The general murmur of conversation filled the church. A few people were crying. One little girl wailed that they were going to miss Christmas. The little girl from the train that Blair had noticed before sat with her family nearby, calmly reading a book while her brother slept on a blanket. Her parents held each other and stared at nothing.
As he ate, Dr. Heintz looked around at the locals who were in the place. A man nearby had a sweaty shirt on and he guessed that it might have been one of those from the rescue party. He recognized him as the man that the woman had called “Bobby” earlier.
“So, you said that a train crashed here the same time last year?” he asked the man.
“Yes sir,” the young man replied with a thick accent. “There was a train crashed here last year.”
“On the 23rd?”
“Yes sir. Well, I don’t remember rightly. It was around Christmas. It derailed. It was a snowstorm, kind o’ like this one coming down on us now. It derailed. There wa’n’t many people hurt. But we fetched ‘em up here and they had to stay here a couple of days ‘cause we was snowed in, couldn’t get out. They sent a train through, I believe, to pick ‘em all up.”
“I see. That’s curious.”
“Yeah. Strange, ain’t it? Seems real strange to me. Does that seem strange to you?”
“Yes, it does.”
“Might just be co-ink-i-dence.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know. Seems strange to me.”
“Perhaps someone should look into this part of the line at winter time.”
“Well, they always keep checking on the line. Most trains come through have big ol’ snow plow on front, big ol’ cow catcher, and push the snow aside. How fast were y’all going?”
“Perhaps a bit too fast.”
“That might be. I thought these boys knew the line better than that. But maybe they don’t. Maybe somebody new was on in the engine. Something like that.”
“It’s been an unusual train ride, sir.”
“Oh, really? I never been on a ride on a train.”
“I may never be again.”
“I can’t say I blame you.”
“All I can say is when men can fly, it will be much safer.”
* * *
They awoke on Wednesday, December 24, 1890, to find the town buried in several feet of snow. It continued to fall from the sky, though not as hard as during the night before. A crew of women arrived early in the morning to fix breakfast for the stranded passengers. One lady was trying to keep the church cleaned up. While they ate breakfast, a blonde man with blue eyes arrived. He greeted the passengers, introducing himself as David Wells, the town constable. He told everyone that the roads and rails were completely snowed in but a telegraph had been sent and, as soon as another train could get through, they would have the passengers on their way.
The festive atmosphere of the day before continued.
After he ate, Blair got his coat and hat, as well as the blanket he slept in the night before.
“I’m going to head back to the train,” he told Dr. Heintz. “Get my gear. Make sure my brother’s body is okay. It’s going to keep in the snow, but ...”
Dr. Heintz had lost both his overcoat and his silk top hat in the crash.
“Maybe we should take one or two of the men from the town, at least,” he suggested. “Maybe they can get us back there on their sleigh.”
Dr. Heintz asked some of the women if someone from the town could take them back to the train to gather up things from the wreck. It was about 20 minutes later when a pair of men arrived. He thought they were both men who had been part of the rescue party last night. One of them asked if there were valuables there. Dr. Heintz said he wanted to gather people’s possessions and the man told him they could carry them back, but it was too deep for the sleigh.
“I don’t really have clothing suitable for traveling a mile out in to the snow, Robert,” Dr. Heintz said.
“Well, you want me to bring something back for you?” Blair said.
Dr. Heintz asked if either of the two men had winter gear he could borrow. They left to fetch some. While they waited, they heard the women of the village chatting with the passengers and spreading gossip. One woman noted that the Cutlers were a strange pair. She said they always seemed distracted when a body was talking to them, as if they had better things to do.
“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” the woman said, “they’re good people. Always in church, and Jenny must have brought every child in Falls Run into the world.”
Blair overheard a woman tell another that Luanne Fisher, the blacksmith’s daughter, was a girl of low morals.
The two men soon returned with some heavy coats, hats, and a pair of thick boots for Dr. Heintz, who had none of his own. The boots fit remarkably well.
They led them through the tiny town and down to the wreck site, about a mile away. En route they learned that the men were Rueben Turner, who had been driving the sleigh the night before, and Al Fisher. Fisher was a very large man. Both men chewed tobacco and they noticed numerous brown stains in the snow of Falls Run.
The baggage car was badly damaged. It had broken in half when it hit, like one might break a stick, and both ends had ended up with the broken end up. The baggage was all dumped into the bottom of each end of the car.
It took Blair a while to find the pine box. The lid, which had been nailed shut, had come off and his brother’s body had been flung from the coffin and lay in a pile of baggage. With the help of the villagers, he dragged the body out of the wreck and placed it in the snow. Then they moved out the coffin. He placed his brother’s body back.
“You want to throw some snow in there with him, sir?” one of the men asked.
“How warm’s it going to get today?” Blair asked.
“Not warm at all.”
“Then I don’t think we need to.”
Dr. Heintz found the small wooden crate that had contained the four Christmas presents he was travelling with in the other broken section of the baggage car. It took him some time to locate the four presents, which he recognized from the wrapping paper, for the most part. He found the box with the wooden toy he’d bought for his nephew. It didn’t sound like it was broken. However, when he found the china-headed doll he’d purchased for his niece, the box rattled nastily when he shook it. He found the package that held the jewelry box he’d purchased for his sister and it didn’t sound broken. It took some time to find the package for his brother-in-law but the wrapped book about military history seemed to be undamaged.
Blair found his pack, which had come open during the crash. It took him some time to find his scattered possessions, including an axe. He used the axe to nail his brother’s coffin shut as best he could, then returned to the broken baggage car to look for the rest of his items, including his Henry lever-action rifle. It took him a while to find the rifle, but it was still in the rifle case and the bullets were all there as well.
The two local men were told to look for coats, hats, gloves, blankets, and the like to take back to town.
Dr. Heintz returned to their Pullman car, which was filled with snow. He found his coat and his violin case under the collapsed lower berth. His silk hat was damaged, but not beyond repair. He also found the train spotter’s pistol, which he’d dropped during the crash. He picked it up and put it into the waistband of his pants. It was unloaded but it was very cold.
By the time they’d found what they were looking for, they were all very cold. They headed back to town, each with a load of clothes, coats, and blankets from the wreck.
“I’m sorry about your brother,” Dr. Heintz said. “But at least the coffin wasn’t damaged and neither was he.”
They walked in silence for a few minutes.
“What was your brother’s name?” Dr. Heintz said.
“Albert,” Blair replied.
They returned to town and felt nearly frozen by the time they arrived. In the daylight, the town was quaint, with rough buildings in a hollow going roughly north to south. A main road ran east to west just south of the town and a lower area that ran through the town probably indicated where a river or creek ran. They passed the Sleeping Wolf Bar and Grill on the south side and walked past a fine house with a sign out front indicating it was also the office of Dr. Korek. There was a small smithy on that same road and, not much further up, a small school house. A tailor and cobbler had signs outside their houses not far from the church. The rest of the houses were apparently residences. Some children were playing in the deep snow, throwing snowballs and building snowmen.
They returned to the church with the supplies. Passengers started to go through the clothing, first trying to find their own things and sometimes even giving their coats or blankets to each other. Small groups had formed amongst the passengers.
Blair asked Rueben if the town had a telegraph. He told the man they did and took him to the window, pointing down the dead end road.
“Right down at the end of the road,” he said. “That’s the mine office and they have a telegraph there.”
“Thank you,” Blair said.
“Matter of fact,” the man said, squinting as he looked out the window. “I can’t tell if there’s a light on there or not. Clyde might be in there. He fusses and fiddles.”
“If he’s not in there, where might he be found?”
“I don’t know. He lives right around the corner. He lives over there. Not next to the Sleeping Wolf but the one next to it.”
“All right. Thank you.”
He returned to Dr. Heintz.
“Want to get a message out,” he said.
“Indeed,” Dr. Heintz replied.
“I’m sure a lot of people are going to want to do that. Let’s go make sure that Clyde is ready for some extended business hours this afternoon.”
They walked down to the building. Over the door was a small sign that read “Zorex Coal Company” and they guessed that the building housed the administrative offices of the local coal company. When they went in, they found a desk on one side, a telegraph off to the other, and a door with a mirror upon it that led to the interior. A man came out of the back room wiping black stains off his hands onto what looked like a printer’s apron.
“Morning,” Blair said.
“Mornin’, how you doin’?” the man said. “I’m Clyde Johnsson.”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Johnsson.”
“Nice to meet you too. You folks must be from the train wreck last night.”
“Yep – that’s a terrible thing. Terrible thing. Glad no more people weren’t hurt. What can I do for you fellas? Here to read the newspaper? I’m going to write up a little story and put it in the newspaper.”
“Actually, we were hoping to get you to send a message on your telegraph machine.”
“All righty. Should I charge it to the railroad?”
“Yes,” Dr. Heintz said.
“Yes,” Blair repeated. “Absolutely. And I think there’s probably going to be quite a few people who want to have the use of your service today.”
“Yep,” Johnsson said. “Already had a few people come in this morning who wanted to send telegraphs to their loved ones.”
“I certainly would like to do so.”
Blair sent a message to his mother that read: “Train Wreck Stop Unknown Delay Stop Albert Okay End.” He waited while Johnsson sent the message on to Cincinnati. Dr. Heintz asked if the railway had been informed of the accident and Johnsson said they had been.
“Somebody came down last night and sent something,” Johnsson told him.
“Someone from the railway?” Dr. Heintz asked.
“I guess. David Wells came. He’s the town constable. He was actually in here last night so we could send a message to the railway. But they’re not going to get through for a few days, until the weather lays off a little bit. So, the railway knows.”
“Did they send a response?” Blair asked.
“They acknowledged receipt of the telegraph,” Johnsson said. “I’m sure they’ll send a train as soon as they can.”
“I’d like to send a message to Cincinnati,” Dr. Heintz said.
His message read: “Train Accident Stop Okay Stop Snowed In West Va End.”
The man sent the message.
“This is your paper?” Blair said, picking up the one page paper the man had gestured at before.
“Yes sir,” Johnsson said. “Well, I call it a paper. It’s just about what’s happened in the area. This will get in.”
“How much for your paper?”
“It’s a penny.”
Blair bought two copies of The Falls Rundown. Johnsson told them that he put out the paper every week in his spare time. He noted that he had a printing press in the back room and he wrote up stories about things happening in the village.
“Mining town, huh?” Blair asked him.
“Yes sir,” Johnsson said. “Zorex Mining Company. Mr. Huggins is the company representative. He lives up in Grafton. I don’t think he’ll be coming in until this all blows over.”
“Where’s the mine?”
“North end of town, up the mountain up that way.”
“Coal?” Dr. Heintz asked.
“Well, it’s an important business to the railway.”
“Yes sir. We got no general store or nothing like that. People go to Grafton to shop. But we got a couple of businesses here. Al Fisher’s got a smithy up there. Then there’s Peter Hood, he’s the tailor. His wife Ellen’s a seamstress. We got a schoolhouse and then there’s Bill Cutler, he’s the cobbler. He lives up there by the church too. His wife, Jenny, she’s a midwife. Probably delivered every baby in this town. We even got a doctor in town, Dr. Korek. But just between you and me, they say he’s an atheist.”
“Can’t have that,” Blair said.
“Yep yep yep, people aren’t too proud about that,” Johnsson said.
“I wouldn’t want any other than a man of God working on me if I was laid low.”
“Yep yep yep. Me neither. But I guess if I ain’t got much choice of who to take, I’ll take who’ll fix me up.”
“Korek,” Dr. Heintz said. “Doesn’t sound like it’s a West Virginia name. Is he from here?”
“No no, not really,” Johnsson said. “He’s from out of town. Been here about 10 years though. They have that big nice house up there. Indoor plumbing and everything. Has his own horse-drawn buggy. His house is up on the hill. There’s trees around it, but you can see it, especially this time of year when the leaves are off.”
“Well, thank you for your time,” Blair said.
“Of course,” Johnsson said. “Come back any time.”
“We’ll let the rest of the folks know that you’re here. That they can come see you about sending messages.”
The two men left the building and headed back to the church. There were lots of youngsters still outside playing in the snow.
Around noon, the folks of town had a covered-dish supper at the church, with enough food for everyone in town as well as the stranded passengers. They saw a lot of new faces, as well as faces that they recognized from the night before. Blair helped some of the local ladies to cook some of the food.